“Where are you going?” I yelled at Sprout across the playground as he zipped around on his balance bike. “I told you not go back there!” My words echoed off of the wall of the building that my son just disappeared behind. My face dropped into a frown as I waited for him to emerge from the other side. When he came around, I walked up to him and said, “You are not using your bike for the rest of the day.” Of course, he broke down wailing.
Another day, Sprout wheeled his bike down the sidewalk near our house, feet flying. But this time, he dragged his sneakers along the pavement when I yelled, “Stop!” Coming to a halt, he waited for Little Bird and I to catch up, despite his fidgeting hands showing his desire to go, go, go! As soon as we reached him, he was off again, speeding ahead but listening for my call.
As I decided whether or not to buy a pedal bike for his fourth birthday, I thought about what side I should weigh more heavily. Was he responsible enough for this present or not?
The First Bike
We gave Sprout his balance bike – his first bike – for his second birthday. I read that you can get kids on balance bikes as early as two, so what the hell, right? I scoured Amazon reviews to pick out what I thought was just the right one – a old-fashioned looking blue Schwinn. At first, the seat was still far too high for him even at it’s lowest setting. We actually turned the seat around so it wouldn’t be in his way. For months, he scooted it around our basement, tilting over on the carpet.
The next spring, the bike made its outside debut, starting with our grassy backyard, then moving into the winding paths around the park. After much consideration, we finally let him ride it on the sidewalk. At first, he could only ride next to us. But before I realized what was going on, suddenly, he was in front of me, speeding away. Whereas I once had to walk slowly to stay with him, now I have run to do so. His skills were so good that he rode in my bike advisory group’s Memorial Day parade. (I did have to keep telling him to look forward so he wouldn’t crash into the crowd!)
Moving on Up to a Pedal Bike
On the months before his birthday, I started considering a pedal bike. It seemed as if he’d learned all he could on the balance bike. When I asked him if he’d be interested in a pedal bike, he said, “I think so.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but he’s always cautious about new things.
I put one requirement on the present: he had to practice pedaling on the tricycles at preschool. I didn’t want to buy a new bike and then have him realize he didn’t actually like pedaling. Plus, I wanted him to earn it . Prove he really wanted it.
For several weeks, I didn’t think about our discussion at all, assuming that he’d forgotten as well. After all, there was no mention of pedaling in his ever-informative of response of “We played” when I asked him what he did in preschool.
So I was pleasantly surprised when Chris told me that Sprout had been practicing pedaling. Not only had he listened and remembered, but had actually followed through! For the child who “forgets” to wash his hands a second after I ask him to, this was revelatory. It made the whole pedal bike thing real.
The Big Decision
So yes, we did buy him a pedal bike. In the end, I weighed the times he was responsible over those he wasn’t. In part because we all make poor judgments at times. You can’t give second chances forever, but one incident shouldn’t ruin everything.
More importantly, I valued the times he was responsible because they came as a result of the times he wasn’t. On the day when I temporarily took away his bike, he understand why I was upset once he calmed down. He hasn’t done it again since. He’s done other irresponsible things, but those are more lessons to be learned. I’d much rather raise a child who can learn from his mistakes than one who never makes them but then doesn’t know what to do when they will inevitably happen.
On the morning of his birthday, his bike was waiting for him in the living room, ready to ride. He was so excited that he was riding it in his pajamas.
Since then, Sprout’s practiced pedaling on his new bike a number of times. That weekend, I stood on the nearby tennis court under a tiny patch of shadow, sweating as he did laps. The black and blue bruises marking his legs speak to his commitment.
At the same time, he still asks for his balance bike. The pedal bike is simply too difficult to use at the park or on sidewalk. (Not that we’d let him ride it on the sidewalk yet anyway.) He likes not having to struggle, just having fun.
It’s another example of this back-and-forth of growing up, wobbling between recklessness and responsibility, rebellion and cooperation, old things and new. It’s a balance we never quite grow out of.